By Nicholas Ibarra | Observer Staff Writer

Sacramento State projects that 26.1% of students, this year, will complete their degree in four years. In turn, this has closed the “equity gap” between traditionally underserved minority students–Black, Latinx, and Native American–and others from a 11.8% difference in 2018 to a projected 4.3% difference in 2021 and will hopefully continue to trend downward.

In 2015, the California State University (CSU) launched Graduation Initiative 2025, a program to increase graduation rates for all CSU students while eliminating opportunity and achievement gaps.

In 2016, only 8.8% of Sacramento State students completed degrees in four years. The two-year graduation rate for transfer students has also risen, from 27% in 2016 to 45% in 2021. With help from James Dragna, executive director of University Initiatives and Student Success and university President Robert S. Nelsen Sacramento State launched its own set of campaigns called “Finish in Four” and “Through in Two” that would perpetuate the rising trends in graduation rates of first-time and transfer students. 

With the launch of these new campaigns, Sacramento State automatically enrolled students in courses totaling 15-credit hours in a semester and had them pledge to complete 30- credit hours within the year, immediately placing them on a path toward timely graduation. 

The university also added grants and other incentives, such as the Summer Provost Grant – for students who pledged to the “Finish in Four” campaign, making them eligible to receive an $800 discount in their summer tuition – and the Finish Line Grant – for students who are within two courses of completing their degree, making them eligible to receive a discount in summer tuition – to allow more students to take classes during the summer. 

As of July 13th, for the Summer 2021 campaign at Sacramento State, there will be 2,045 recipients of the Provost Grant, totalling $865,000 in awarded money and 187 recipients of the Finish Line Grant, totaling $157,755 in awarded money. These grants have tripled the amount of students able to enroll in summer courses, making these courses much more affordable and keeping students on track for graduation. Currently, there are 6,085 degree-seeking undergraduates enrolled in summer courses.  

 “There is a lot happening about making sure that students not only can get the courses that they need, but also that the courses that they are receiving are efficient for them to graduate,” Dragna said, “These new implementations have been a significant change for us in some of the improving rates that we are seeing these last couple of years.”

A lot of what was initially implemented at Sacramento State, in 2016, is now being used as a foundation for student success and being implemented to all 23 CSU campuses and even nationally. They have eliminated remedial courses that earn no credits and replaced them with thousands of high-demand courses that are necessary for graduation; are in review of course that have high rates of D’s, F’s, and W’s (Withdrawals) to see what is causing these low marks and how to fix them; added more course sections to ensure availability of the necessary courses; hired more minority faculty to enhance inclusion of minorities within the classroom; eliminated remedial math; and have implemented an “equitable access” program that has pre-selected courses for students to guarantee that they are taking the right course at the right time. 

Dragna said, “When you have a four-year graduation increase of over 200% that gets people’s attention, and more importantly it helps with the amount of students that want to attend Sacramento State because they’ve heard that it is a place that is designed and has a culture for student success.”

Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.